Mayor's stay at contractor's Florida home questioned

2012-10-31T19:00:00Z 2012-11-01T11:40:03Z Mayor's stay at contractor's Florida home questionedJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | Mayor James Snyder is coming under fire for a recent trip to Florida during which he stayed in the Sunshine State home of a Portage businessman.

Snyder, a Republican, and others, including his brother, Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder, spent three nights at the Bonita Springs, Fla., home of Circle R Electric owner Chuck Shields two weeks ago. The group played golf and fished together.

Shields has done approximately $23,000 worth of work for the city this year, through Oct. 9. He also recently received a $36,000 contract from the city's Redevelopment Commission to replace streetlight poles. Shields also donated $1,000 last year to Snyder's campaign for mayor.

Shields' company also recently lost a bid for an approximate $500,000 project at the city's wastewater treatment plant.

Both Snyder and Shields said they believe nothing was inappropriate, but some city officials are calling for a further investigation.

Councilman Mark Oprisko, a Democrat, believes there should be an investigation and Snyder should produce receipts from the trip to show he did not accept any gifts from Shields beyond staying at his home.

"It's a definite conflict of interest. He used poor judgement. It's not like you are going out to lunch in Portage," Oprisko said.

Shields defended the mayor's action. 

"He stayed at my home and rode in my vehicle," Shields said.

"He's a friend of mine, as well as his brother. He isn't the first mayor that stayed at my house," said Shields, who would not say what other mayors have also taken him up on his hospitality. Shields added he offered to pay for meals, golfing and other expenses.

"I didn't pay for anything. (James Snyder) wouldn't allow it," Shields noted.

Jon Snyder said he asked Shields if he could come to the annual golf outing and if his brother could come along. 

"This trip was my idea," Jon Snyder said. "At the time I didn't think about any contractual relations with his office."

He said he has no contractual relationship with Shields in his position as Porter County assessor.

James Snyder issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon.

"Two weeks ago, I took a trip with three friends to Florida in which we all paid our personal expenses. We lodged in a home of a Portage contractor who does business in and for the City of Portage.

"After learning of the questions related to the lodging of the trip, I reviewed the state conflict of interest law and the city's ethics ordinance. Based on that review, no conflict of interest law or city ordinances have been violated. My department heads and I will be the first Portage administration to comply with the economic interest disclosure as stated in Sec. 2-177 of the city code since the ethics ordinance was passed by the city council in 1996," Snyder wrote.

The city's ethics ordinance requires officials to file an economic interest disclosure annually. It also prohibits the acceptance of gifts valued at $500 or more over the course of 12 consecutive months.

Oprisko said he authored the city's ethics ordinance and will review it to determine if it needs to be "tightened up."

"I'm holding final judgement until there is a full investigation," Clerk-treasurer Chris Stidham said, adding he does believe the mayor acted inappropriately by spending the night in the home of a businessman who has received no-bid work for the city.

"Just from a smell test, it just doesn't smell right. It is just something you should know better not to do," he said.

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